Category: Sermons

Expectation or Invitation?

Address Marlborough College Chapel
Second Sunday of Epiphany, John 1.43-51

invitationOne of the things I dislike is when someone tells me what to do, and I am sure that I am not the only one. Here at school there are quite a lot of things you are told to do, and I suspect that some of you feel the same about those things as I, when I am told that I have to do something. There are quite a few things in life you will just have to do. Not only when you’re at school, but also when you embark on your next stage of life and even beyond. Fortunately, there are also a lot of things you are invited to do, and often they have a very different feel to it.

For example, when I was in the last year of my Master’s course in physics, I was invited to go to an annual conference to present the research that I had been doing. It was a real honour to go and to be part of the ‘grown-up’ scientific community and I very much enjoyed the couple of days full of lectures and talks. The next year, when I had started my PhD research in the same field, attending the same conference was no longer an invitation, but an expectation. As soon as my supervisor told me to go, the conference lost its appeal, and I did no longer want to. Although my interests hadn’t changed, nor the topic and format of the conference itself, the fact that I was told to go, spoilt it for me altogether.

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The choice is yours

Homily Marlborough College Chapel 13th January 2019
The Baptism of Christ: Matthew 3.13-17

I’m sure that even if you’re in the middle of your mock exams, you may have had time to see some of what is happening in the news this week. Of course, there is the very worrying situation in Iran, and competing with this for the headlines has been the recent statement of the youngest son of Prince Charles that he and his wife Meghan are stepping back as senior royals. Looking at the newspapers, the statement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has caused quite a lot of controversy. Headlines range from “Harry digs in for a deal” to a caption stating that friends claim that the couple has been “driven out by Buckingham Palace”. I would love to do a quick survey what you think, but I guess that this is not the time nor the place.

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However, the whole affair raises some interesting issues that are important for all of us to consider at some stage in our lives. The first is the question in how far we should follow in the path that our parents, or our family have set out for us. It is of course a particular pertinent question for members of any monarchy for example, but also a question for each of us.

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The way ahead

Address given at Shell Chapel at Marlborough College, Wednesday 8th January 2020

It is your second term now at Marlborough. I am sure that coming back yesterday felt very different from coming here the first time in September. Probably it feels a long time ago, that first afternoon when you all went to Court to meet your teachers; your first experience of Norwood and being lost quite a lot of the time, if you’re honest. Not so this time. You have learned a lot and grown a lot, but that also means that the expectations are now a little bit higher. You will get a blue chit if you’re late, if you have forgotten where you need to go, or if you’re not wearing your uniform properly. You are no longer newcomers, you are now part of this community as much as anyone else.

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Part of growing up means that as you get older, you get more privileges, but also more responsibilities. The two go hand-in-hand. In your first term, you made friendships and learned to get to know the workings of this place, hopefully enjoying at least most of it. Now starts the time to build on those experiences. You start to know what it means to have real friends: people who support you when you need it, but they are the same who will need your support at times too. Friendship is a two-way process, you cannot only take, you will also have to give.

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Welcome!

A sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany

6 January is the day on which the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany. It is also the last day of the Christmas season. Many of us will have already taken down our Christmas decorations, or will do so in the next couple of days. Christmas is behind us, and the new year lies ahead of us.

magiThe Gospel reading set for the Feast of the Epiphany is the reading of the wise men visiting Jesus: a scene we often associate with the Christmas story itself. Indeed, it is the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel, who does not include shepherds or choirs of angels as in Luke’s version, but narrates the story of the Incarnation here. Hence, the Christmas story as we often hear it in nativities and see it in cribs is a conflation of the two different Gospel accounts.

Matthew does not tell us very much about these wise men. We know that they came from the East and followed a star. First the star leads them to Jerusalem, and later, on instruction of the scribes and Pharisees, the men follow the star to Bethlehem. It is a significant detail of the story, revealing Matthew’s purpose in telling it this way. The wise men are foreigners, non-Jews, gentiles. They do not know the stories of the Jewish faith, nor the God as revealed in the Jewish scriptures. But that does not mean that they don’t know anything about God, as they can see Him in the world around them. Hence, they follow the star.

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A Christmas message

Sermon St Peter’s Milton Lilbourne, 24th December 2018, 11.00pm
Midnight Communion: Isaiah 9.2-7 and Luke 2.1-20

As a child, I often spent Wednesday afternoons with my grandmother. I particularly remember one afternoon: we were going to leave a message in a bottle. I don’t quite remember what the message was, but I remember well the sense of excitement as I stood in the middle of the bridge crossing the river, ready to throw my bottle into the unknown. I have remained fascinated by the idea of leaving a message for someone you don’t know.

christmas-in-a-bottle.jpgSo last week, my eye was caught by the story you may have read or heard as well. It was the news item that a young girl had found a message in a Christmas card she was about to write: a message that claimed to have come from within a Chinese prison. Someone wrote in English “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qinqpu prison in China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.”

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Keeping the message alive

Homily St John the Baptist, Pewsey 15th December 2019: Advent 3
Isaiah 35.1-10 & Matthew 11.2-11

Just like last week, today’s Gospel passage speaks about John the Baptist. Last week’s passage focussed on John’s preaching: his message of the need for repentance. We heard how crowds of people came out to him, all confessing their sins and being baptised in the river Jordan. Now, however, John is in prison. He was put there by Herod, because John had told him that his second marriage was not lawful – John was rather good at telling uncomfortable truths.

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Whilst he is in prison, John hears reports of what Jesus is doing: his healing, his teaching and the followers he is gathering. And so he wants to know: is this the man who John himself had proclaimed, or is there yet another prophet to come? It is rather humbling to think that John doesn’t ask to get liberated, he doesn’t ask Jesus or his disciples for help, but only wants to know if his work is done.

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A journey into the unknown

Sermon St John the Baptist, Mildenhall
Advent Sunday, 1st December 2019

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In this Gospel reading from Matthew’s Gospel set for the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus is speaking about the end of the age, also known as the second coming or the day of judgement. It is a reminder to us that during this season of Advent we are not only preparing for Christmas, for the celebration of God becoming one of us some two-thousand years ago, but we are also preparing for the end of the age, the day about which no one knows. How we can prepare for that day, and how we can do that in such a way that we do not fear, but instead anticipate with readiness and joy, the unknown of God’s judgement?

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Last week, I was visiting someone in hospital. She had just received the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Although we talked about Christmas, it was clear that for her it was very uncertain what this Christmas would look like. For her, this season of Advent would be a time to prepare in a very real way for the day and hour that we will all face, but of which no one knows. Continue reading “A journey into the unknown”